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Ben Roethlisberger and Injuries: How Long Does He Really Have Left?

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Ben Roethlisberger injuries
List of injuries:

  • 2006/2009 – Concussion

    Motorcycle accident in 2006, but did not miss any games. Out with a concussion against the Ravens but played against the Raiders in 2006.

  • 2005/2006/2011 – Thumb

    Played through injury in all seasons.

  • 2011 – Hand

    Did not miss any games.

  • 2006/2007/2008/2012 – Shoulder
  • 2005 – Ribs

    Missed game against the Bills.

  • 2006 – Chest

    Played through injury against the Bucs.

  • 2005 – Back

    Probable against the Patriots, but played.

  • 2006 – Appendix

    Did not play against the Dolphins.

  • 2007 – Hip
  • 2004 – Quadriceps

    Did not miss any games.

  • 2005 – Knee

    Missed four games. Played three through injury. Underwent surgery in 2013.

  • 2007/2011/2012 – Ankle

    Did not play against the Ravens in 2007 or the Rams in 2011. Played through injury in 2012.

  • 2007/2010 – Foot

    Played through injury against Seahawks.

Roll your mouse over the above image to see injuries.

Who will play more games from this day forward in the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady? It would seem a relatively simple proposition based on age. Big Ben turned 31 this offseason. Tom Brady will be 36 years old by the start of the season. There is an upper bound where age simply kicks in–here’s a list of the quarterbacks to throw 10 or more passes in a game at age 40 or older. Only four quarterbacks even got to ten games, and many of the greatest quarterbacks retired in their late thirties.

The answer will likely more depend on Ben Roethlisberger’s health and how he ages. Brady will probably be around for three to four more seasons, before he would then either retire or enter Brett Favre and Vinny Testaverde territory and unretire again. In the past, I have talked about Roethlisberger in relation to his high sack totals. Quarterbacks who took a lot of sacks at a young age did not end up aging well. Big Ben certainly has a unique style (one that you should not imitate in the pool) that sees him use his size and strength to extend plays while also exposing him to more hits.

Today, with the news last week that Roethlisberger was undergoing a “minor” knee surgery to deal with “lingering discomfort in his right knee”, I thought I would re-visit the issue. Instead of just looking at sacks, we will also look at injuries and quarterbacks who tended to miss games with them by the time they were Roethlisberger’s age. Roethlisberger has missed games for a variety of reasons over the course of his career, and as a result has played a full 16 game season only once in his career. He has missed games with injuries to his ribs (2004), right knee (2005), ankle (2007 and 2011), head (2009), and shoulder (2012), only missing out on the toes to complete a popular children’s song. In addition, he had the serious motorcycle accident in June of 2006, the emergency appendectomy the same year that caused him to miss the opener, and the four game suspension in 2010 for the sexual assault allegations.

There are obviously different injuries and different ways to attempt to measure that. If you go by just games missed, then Brady has actually missed more games than Roethlisberger due to an injury over the last decade. All of his, though, came as a result of one injury that happened to have occurred in week 1, while Roethlisberger’s have been spread out over eight different stretches.

To get some comparisons, I settled on finding the quarterbacks with the most opening day starts through age 30, and then seeing how frequently or infrequently each reached a full season played. (for ease of search, I technically found all times a quarterback threw 10 or more passes on opening day, which will match up 95% of the time with starts). Roethlisberger started opening day six times (missing his rookie year, the appendectomy in 2006, and the suspension in 2010). While some of the quarterbacks could have been benched, by limiting it to other quarterbacks who started at least six opening games by age 30, we are generally looking at quarterbacks good enough to keep starting, where injury was the primary cause of missed games.

Roethlisberger comes in at one completed full season in six attempts through age 30 (16.7%). Among the active quarterbacks, that is last, behind Peyton Manning (9 of 9), Eli Manning (7 of 7), Tom Brady and Philip Rivers (6 of 6), Carson Palmer (4 of 6), Drew Brees (5 of 8), and Jay Cutler (3 of 6, and counting).

Where does it rank among all quarterbacks? Actually, not the worst, but close. Among all retired quarterbacks who started the opener at least six times since 1970, here are those that failed to play every game in at least four different seasons by age 30.

Quarterbacks who started opening games

The average number of games started for that group at age 31 or older: 31.6. In comparison, the remaining twenty-three quarterbacks who started at least six openers averaged 53.2 games started at age 31 or older. The only two to never miss a game in a season they started were Brett Favre and Dan Marino. They also were among the few to get to over 100 starts after their 31st birthday. Donovan McNabb, meanwhile, had the most starts among this group, with 63. We all remember how done McNabb looked in his last two seasons in Washington and Minnesota after leaving Philadelphia.

Yes, Chris Miller actually started an opener eight different times between 1988 and 1995 and never once played in all sixteen games. The next three on the list were all Super Bowl winning quarterbacks who frequently missed games with injuries before they turned 31. Bob Griese missed 22 games from 1967 to 1975; Aikman missed 15 games from 1989 to 1996. Those two are the best comparables for Roethlisberger, because like them he has the accomplishments and the history of several smaller injuries. They started 51 and 52 games respectively after turning 31. I’d set the over/under on Roethlisberger at just under that.

I started with the question about Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. I don’t think there is a clear answer, because Big Ben’s history of taking hits counteracts Brady’s five years of age to a large degree. Hearing things like “lingering pain” in the offseason concern me with how many knocks he has had in the past, and his propensity to take hits. He has worked on getting the ball out, and last year had a career low sack rate, and for the first time ever was at league average in sacks taken. The question will be how much the past history of injuries has already aged him beyond the typical franchise quarterback, and whether it is too late to change his stripes as he heads into the thirties.

[photo via USA Today Sports Images]

 

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